By Randy De La O
I got a call from my trainer Mel Epstein telling me that the Main Street Gym would be closed for a couple of days and that I would be working out at Jake Shugrue's Seaside gym in Long Beach. I picked up Mel at mid morning and we headed to the gym. This was the first time I met Jake. Like most trainers of that time He was a little rough around the edge and Runyunesque in character.
I was told I would be sparring. I was feeling good and was anxious to get started. I warmed up and began my work out, keeping in mind that I would be sparring. I had only sparred once before. Mel called me over and told me I would be sparring in a few minutes. He laced up my gloves and in a few minutes I was standing in the ring. I watched as the guy I would be sparring with climbed into the ring. A black guy more or less my age, maybe a little younger. He looked lean and hard.
As the round started I began to box him. He was very quick. I did not have the sense yet to realize that we were sparring, not fighting. Mel was on the ring apron leaning on the ropes. I could hear him talking to me but I was focused on the guy in front of me. I was trying too hard. I was trying to make a fight of it. One round ended and another began.
I don't know where it came from but I heard a loud explosion. It seemed to come from far off. I felt confused. Next I heard a whooshing sound , whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, and I felt myself falling like a freshly cut tree. I landed hard and I remember thinking, “Did I faint?” Again I was confused. I got on my hands and knees slowly and looked up and there they were, yellow butterflies and canaries all around me, all I could see was yellow. I shook my head from side to side, still wondering what happened. As the butterflies and canaries began to clear Mel came into view. He had a smirk on his face and let out a little laugh and then it hit me. I was knocked down.
I should have kept my cool but I could not. I was furious. I jumped up and went at him with everything I had but I was too angry, too prideful. The round ended, I climbed through the ropes and Mel was wiping me down. The guy walked up to me with an extended hand and said “I'm sorry but it seemed like you wanted to fight”. That guy had a lot of class. I shook his hand and said, “That's okay, no problem” My pride was hurt and I had embarrassed myself. I was told later that it was a right hand. that caught me because I kept my left too low. I cannot remember the punch for the life of me, just my reaction. I don't remember his name, or if I ever knew it but I remember him.
I learned a few things that day. From that day on I kept my cool. It was a lesson in humility ( I would have more). I stopped thinking so highly of myself. It also made me sharper and more determined. I can't say I had much of a career but I can say that those things we learn at the gym and in the ring carry over into our lives. I raised my children on that belief. Boxing is a microcosm of life, you just have to look closely.